Malekula: The Banana Boat and the (Rough) Sea Vanuatu

Did I say I was scared on Dukono? Or on the boat to Bunaken island? Well, back then, I didn’t know what being scared was really like. What I felt on the boat from Ambrym to Malekula was a whole new dimension of being scared. I was terrified.

No Easy Way to Get to Malekula

Ambrym is beautiful and its people very nice but, to be honest, apart from the volcano trekking and a few days of relaxing afterwards, there’s not much to do there. We wanted to see more of Vanuatu. The island of Malekula seems so close from Craig Cove on Ambrym, so why not go there? Not by plane, mind you, but by boat.

Malekula is Vanuatu’s second biggest island and home to about 23’000 people. Over thirty languages are spoken on the islands. The two major cultural groups are the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas, named after the size of the men’s penis sheaths. Especially the Big Nambas were feared for being dauntless warriors; cannibalism was a common practice on Malekula.

So we took the boat. Every Ni-Vanuatu we told that we went by boat from Ambrym to Malekula made huge eyes and asked us, “how was it?” How it was? Scary. One of the stupidest things we’ve ever done.

The boat would be big, they told us back back in Craig Cove. And the sea would be calm in the morning. Sure, the boat was bigger than the small outrigger canoes but it was by no means big. They call this type of boat “banana boat”; I think that says it all. And the sea… if this was “calm” then I don’t want to know what “rough” is.

The small boat got tossed around by the waves almost right from the start. The captain drove veeery slowly and tried to navigate around the (worst) waves but several times the boat was almost standing upright and nearly capsized. We had to hold on tight to the bench in order not to fall off and were soaking wet after the first ten minutes. I had my eyes closed for most of the trip. That helped a little bit. After what seemed like an eternity (1 hour 40 minutes), we finally arrived in the wonderfully calm bay of Lamap. Shallow water, palm trees, children playing in the sea. And we were still alive.

That’s the boat. The Banana Boat.


The captain and his friend left us there at the beach and immediately set off again back to Ambrym. We stood a moment on the deserted beach, gathering our thoughts and trying to calm down (not too hard in such a tranquil environment), before we grabbed our luggage and went to the village.

We made it

Our plan had been to go to the Maskelynes, a group of small islands south of Malekula. However, we had dropped this plan with the first big wave that hit the boat. We were done with boat rides for today. So we stayed at a guesthouse at the beach, went for a walk in the village, and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Early the next morning we took the truck to Lakatoro, Malekula’s main town. The truck is like a bus, it’s – although private – the only kind of public transportation on Malekula outside of Lakatoro.

Uri Island

In Lakatoro, we asked around until we found Jack, the owner of Nanwud Bungalows on Uri Island. The island is only a 15-minute boat ride away from Lakatoro. The bungalows are right at the beach, everything is beautifully decorated with shells and coral and the sea is calm and good to swim and snorkel.

Unfortunately, most of the corals off the coast of Uri are dead and bleached and  there are almost no fish. I’m not sure why it’s like that but if I had to guess I would name two reasons. First, the storms, which can cause huge damage to coral. In February 2015, Vanuatu was hit by the devastating cyclone Pam. In some places, the damage is still visible and some people continue to live in tents provided by aid groups. Second, because of the rough sea, people prefer to fish close to the shore. Sometimes, they don’t even use a boat but fish directly from the beach, using a spear or a net. It even seemed to us that whenever they see a fish, they try to catch it. Just, you know, because it’s there and somebody will eat it; if not you, then the old lady next door.

A little south of Uri Island, there’s a marine sanctuary where we went snorkeling with Jack. Sea turtles live there, beautiful animals that seem to fly in the water. Fishing is prohibited in the sanctuary. That doesn’t mean that nobody fishes there, but definitely less than in other places since we did see quite a lot of fish. Although it was nothing compared to Indonesia or Malaysia.

Apart from snorkeling, relaxing, and eating there’s not much to do on Uri Island. Jack and his wife Lines offer various activities like a cooking class or an island tour but, like everywhere in Vanuatu, everything costs quite a lot and it was just too much for our budget. Still, we had a lovely time on Uri Island and lots of fun with Jack and Lines.

The morning we flew back to Port Vila, Jack brought us to the airport by boat. The airport, just a few meters away from the beach, had been burned down a few years ago but never rebuilt so the check-in counter is now (and probably will be for years to come) in a makeshift hut.

So once again we stood at a beach with our luggage, a little bit lost but happy to be fine and able to continue our journey.

Malekula: essential information (prices as of October 2016)

How to get there:

By plane: 3 airports
– Norsup (main town)
– Lamap (in the south, close to Maskelynes Islands)
– South Bay (almost impossible to get there or get away; there are no roads to South Bay)

By boat
Boat from Craig Cove, Ambrym to Lamap, Malekula: charter 12’000 – 15’000 vatu. Sea very rough. Not advisable.


How to get around:

Truck between Lamap and Lakatoro:
1500 vatu per person, 3-5 hours (depends on how much water there is in the rivers), Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Other days you have to charter one for 22’000 vatu.



  • Lamap: 1 or 2 guesthouses in the village, 1 guesthouse on the beach (actually in Levi village): Levi’s Beachside Guesthouse, Mary: 593 42 02. 1500 vatu per person incl. breakfast. Meals 250 – 500 vatu. Self-catering possible.
  • Uri Island: Nanwut Bungalows, Jack and Lines Banga: 593 85 23 / 572 55 75

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